Many people do not know the potential health dangers that can be brought on by inclement, winter weather, including cold temperatures, high winds, icy rain, and snow. The winter season is also when there is an uptick in illnesses that can be life threatening, including flu and pneumonia.
Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN) medical experts will provide tips to help their communities stay healthy and safe this winter season.
Many people depend on daily medications to maintain their heart health and reduce the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. Inclement weather can keep people from getting to their doctor or pharmacy.
In winter months, make sure you do not wait until the last minute to fill or refill your prescriptions. Talk to your doctor about having enough supply of medication available so you will not run out if the weather prevents you from safely leaving your home.
Cold temperatures can affect your heart, especially if you have heart disease, or are a young child or older adult. Cold temperatures can decrease the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. Cold weather, like high winds and snow, can also put you in situations that force your heart to work harder. For instance, walking outside against strong winds or shoveling snow can lead to overexertion.
If you have risk factors for heart disease (diabetes, family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or smoking) or are a young child or older adult, consider avoiding strenuous outdoors activities in cold temperatures. Also know the signs of a heart attack and stay current with how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. Most people with SAD start noticing symptoms in the fall and they last throughout the winter months. SAD usually starts in young adulthood and is more common in women than men. It is normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you cannot get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications, and psychotherapy (talk therapy).
Winter holidays can sometimes lead to stress and depression. Having a game plan for managing the holidays this winter season can help to alleviate stress and depression. Things like managing expectations, planning ahead, and asking for help are ways to take control of your mental health this holiday season.
Last flu season (2017 to 2018), nearly 1 million people were hospitalized, and nearly 80,000 people died in the United States. On October 25, 2018 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that a decline in adult vaccinations is likely a factor in last year being the deadliest flu season in decades. New data found that 37 percent of adults received flu vaccinations last year, a decrease of 6.2 percentage points from the previous season.
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year. The CDC recommends yearly flu vaccination for people 6 months and older. Recognizing the signs of flu and what to do if you are experiencing these symptoms are important too. Flu usually comes on suddenly. Symptoms may include chills, cough, fatigue, fever, headache, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people, except to get medical care if necessary. If you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider. Remember that good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
The pneumococcal vaccination is recommended for relevant groups at risk of developing illnesses caused by pneumococcus. Pneumococcus is the most common cause of bloodstream infections, pneumonia, meningitis, and middle ear infections in young children. Because some of these illnesses can be life threatening, the CDC recommends pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for all children younger than 2 years old, all adults 65 years or older, and people 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions. The CDC recommends pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine for all adults 65 years or older, people 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions, and adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes.
Inclement Weather Hazards
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned. In colder months, there is an increased risk of unintentional CO poisoning because there is more usage of gas furnaces, propane stoves, and portable generators, which all emit CO. Warming up your car in a closed, unventilated garage can also lead to unintentional CO poisoning. Many people that have CO poisoning do not realize it because the symptoms — feeling dizzy or lightheaded, headache, nausea, and weakness — are common symptoms. There are many things you can to do reduce the risk of CO poisoning, like installing a battery-operated CO detector in your home and avoid heating your house with a gas oven. Get into fresh air immediately and call 911 if you or someone you are with develops symptoms of CO poisoning.
One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. Falls are particularly dangerous for seniors. Falls are a main cause of morbidity, disability, and loss of independence in people 65 years and older. Each year in the United States, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. Primary care providers can evaluate someone’s risk for falling and develop a plan to reduce the risk.
Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, is a dangerous condition that can occurs when a person is exposed to extremely cold temperatures. Certain people are at an increased risk of experiencing hypothermia including babies sleeping in cold bedrooms, people with inadequate clothing, food, heating, or housing, and people who remain outdoors for long periods. Seek medical care immediately if you or someone you are with are showing signs of hypothermia. In adults symptoms include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. In infants symptoms include bright red and cold skin, and very low energy.
Space Heaters: Burn Treatment and Fire Prevention
Heating equipment like space heaters present potential fire hazards and must be used with caution. Heating equipment is the second-leading cause of home fires in the United States, and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths. Contact with the hot surfaces of space heaters can result in burn injuries. Fifty-three percent of all home heating fire deaths in the United States result from fires that begin when heating equipment is too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding. Primary care providers can counsel patients on how to stay warm and stay safe!
This post was brought to you by the Western Connecticut Health Network.